When asked about his take on the balloon shot down that the US government say was a Chinese spy balloon, Seymour Hersh says it was more likely a [federally funded] project of the University of Fairbanks, to study the weather above the North Pole. (He adds that "Nobody is talking about that" and the US would do "anything to make up a fight with China."):

There were contracts given to the University of Fairbanks in northern Alaska... they needed coverage over the pole, when most of the major airlines go from the Asia to the America, over the pole, north pole there's no weather station there, and the pilots even though they're at 30,000 feet if there was a sudden downdraft or something going on below they needed to know so the Fairbanks got this contract to send up balloon type things, they were vehicles really that's what they shot down, to monitor monitor the weather, they had a federal contract...

Is there any corroborating evidence for this [counter-]claim that the balloon was more likely put up by the University of Fairbanks?

N.B. rewatching the segment they go from plural "balloons" to singular several times [back and forth], so it's none too clear which one[s] they might be talking about, since the US shot down several, but only blamed one on China, as far as I know. But anyway, giving them the benefit of the doubt, were any of the balloons shot down related to the University of Fairbanks?

For slightly more context, Hersh introduces the topic while being asked something about Ukraine, saying "Blinken refusing to go [to China] because of balloons", i.e. Hersh is using the plural there.

  • @CGCampbell: sure, but Hersh might not be up to speed with that? Mar 9, 2023 at 12:55
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    Re the US would do "anything to make up a fight with China." Is Hersh up to speed on the fact that Antony Blinken was about to make a diplomatic visit to China? Mar 9, 2023 at 16:33
  • I think your title needs rewriting to match the question. Also, it's probably unanswerable, since as far as we know none of the targets beyond the known Chinese balloon off South Carolina were recovered. Mar 9, 2023 at 16:57
  • The question title is asking about a single balloon but you also ask if any of the balloons might be linked to the university. Which question are you asking as it appears to be causing confusion in the answer given.
    – Joe W
    Mar 9, 2023 at 17:48
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    That doesn't address my concern here as your title is asking if the "Chinese Spy Balloon" was actually a Fairbanks University one and later on you ask if any of the balloons shot down was a Fairbanks University one. One of those two items needs to be cleaned up as you are asking two different questions.
    – Joe W
    Mar 9, 2023 at 21:14

1 Answer 1


The balloon shot down over South Carolina, the only one the government has stated to be a likely spy balloon, has no ties to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. The Fairbanks link he mentions probably has to do with a statement made by John Walsh of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks regarding the balloon shot down over Alaska (one of a handful downed in that time period, and one which is generally acknowledged to be a matter of mistaken identity and not likely to be a spy balloon).

In Alaska, where one of the objects was shot down, scientists host field programs to deploy large balloons and rockets from warehouses and launchpads at the Poker Flat Research Range, said John Walsh, an Arctic climate researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Poker Flat Research Range, of course, being owned by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Geophysical Institute. It does not sound like he was confirming that the balloon launched was from the university, but he was suggesting the possibility.

As noted by the querent, the interview talked about the "balloons" and "balloon" interchangeably, so it sounds like Hersh was mentioning the one balloon shot down over Alaska, and the interview conflated it with the general topic of balloons shot down, only one of which seems to have been acknowledged to be carrying equipment outside of what's allowed in these vehicles (the one shot down over South Carolina).

From the first-linked article:

.... While this cross-country passage may have been an accident, and possibly conducted without full knowledge of some senior Chinese authorities, the [South Carolina] balloon was still attempting to collect sensitive intelligence on U.S. military installations in the Pacific region, and once in the continental United States, seems to have flown over ballistic missile silos in Montana—which is not a likely coincidence. The United States has also claimed that this balloon was part of a larger Chinese fleet that has carried out intelligence activities in recent years in over 40 countries on five continents.

The other three objects shot out of the sky by U.S. fighter aircraft over the weekend of February 10–12 appear to have been harmless, connected to research, commercial, or meteorological pursuits. Shot down, in order, over Alaska, the Yukon, and Lake Huron, they apparently did not possess any surveillance capabilities. Their true origins may never be known—recovering debris in all three cases has proven difficult—but nothing at this point suggests they were linked to hostile states. They were brought down out of an abundance of caution, in President Biden’s words, picked up by recalibrated radar looking for smaller, slower-moving objects, and supposedly posing a threat to civilian aircraft given their altitude.

  • This does not address anything about the balloon in question. Just because one object is shot down in Alaska doesn't mean anything for another object shot down in another part of the world.
    – Joe W
    Mar 9, 2023 at 13:32
  • @JoeW: Right, but as mentioned by the querent in a recent edit, Hersh jumps back and forth between "balloons" and "balloon". shrug I think Hersh mentioned the single Alaska incident with "Chinese spy balloons" and the interview likely got cut to make it sound more like he was saying they were all Fairbanks balloons. Mar 9, 2023 at 13:43
  • The Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the east coast and no where near Alaska. Even if it traveled through Alaska at one point it doesn't mean that it was a University of Fairbanks weather balloon. This question is focusing on the balloon that was shot down as a Chinese spy balloon and not other balloons that may have been in the news.
    – Joe W
    Mar 9, 2023 at 14:03
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    {nods} But then they end the question with "But anyway, giving them the benefit of the doubt, were any of the balloons shot down related to the University of Fairbanks?". Mar 9, 2023 at 16:55
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    Up-voted not only for content but for using the word 'querent'. although the OED says that both 'querent' and 'quesited' (the one enquiring and the one being questioned) are both obscure and also usually associated with astrology.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 26, 2023 at 2:44

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